May 21, 2014
By John Fitts, Editor Canton Compass
Since the 1980s, the Town of Canton Volunteer Fire & EMS Department has guided more than 100 young men and women through its Cadet Program. Young people who join the Program get hands-on experience in a wide variety of emergency and medical services. Many participants actually continue to serve as volunteer firefighters and/or EMTs into adulthood. Cadets attend both Program and Department meetings, drills and respond to emergency dispatches. As they learn and become more proficient with various situations, their skills are put to increased use.
“These young people are a very important support resource to the Department,” said Tom Gotaski, volunteer fire engineer and an advisor to the Cadet Program. Each young person involved can explore either of the Department’s two main divisions, fire or EMS.
While there are safety restrictions on their activities and responsibilities, Fire Cadets are encouraged to perform or drill on many of the same tasks as the Department’s volunteer firefighters.In their support role, for example, Fire Cadets get to know the trucks inside and out.
“We go over and over it,” says Gotaski, “So, when a volunteer firefighter asks for a tool or for assistance, that Cadet is ready to participate.”
Another example of the Department’s practical skill drills involves securing a sustainable water supply. Fire Cadets not only learn how to “dress” hydrants, but also how to assist in setting up portable ponds during tanker shuttles between water sources.
Once a Cadet turns 18 years of age, he or she may apply to the Department for membership. Once a member, he or she then becomes eligible to attend the state fire academy to be certified as an interior firefighter. They also have the option to remain an exterior firefighter.
Joseph Viener joined the Cadet Program in October, 2009 at the age of 15. “When I first started, I was a little nervous,” he said. “I wondered if I would fit in. But, as soon as I attended my first drill, I knew that I would fit right in and that I had met my new family. As a Fire Cadet, I could always count on help with anything I needed,” Viener added. “One of the hardest things to learn was to trust. But right after that first drill, I knew that everyone had my back and would help me out when I needed it.” When Vierner turned 17, he took the Emergency Medical Responder certification class. And when he turned 18, last July, he graduated from the Cadet Program and applied for membership to the Department. “When I attended the Fire I Class at the Fire Academy, to learn how to become an interior firefighter, I realized that being a Fire Cadet really prepared me. I already knew a lot of what I needed to know for the classes and practicals.”
A young person can train to be an EMT at age 16. “Once they pass the National Registry and State practical,” EMS Capt. Gerry Holland said. “They can practice and contribute alongside all the other members of our service. The key difference, in most cases, is that ambulance drivers must be at least 21 years old.”
Megan Casey joined the Cadet Program, at age 15, in the spring of her sophomore year at Canton High School. She took her first EMT class that fall and received her certification the following spring/2012, at age 16. When she turned 18 this year, she applied to the Department for membership. “It’s like a family down here,” Casey said. “You have no other exposure to something like this until you join. I knew I was here to stay. “You do have to learn how to balance your responsibilities to the Department and school,” Casey added. “There is a lot of training in this Department, but balancing it all becomes normal eventually.”
Cadets learn constantly and are encouraged to try new things, Casey said.
“Whether it was taking a blood pressure or memorizing basic vitals, no matter when we had questions, we could ask them to anyone and always get an honest response.”
One of the many positive by-products of drilling along side the Department’s volunteer firefighters and EMTs is that these young people learn how to conduct themselves with maturity and confidence, Gotaski said.
“Those are abilities that help them with the rest of their lives,” says Gotaski.
Casey agreed that respect is a big part of it. Communication skills are also important, Casey said.
“This is especially true with EMS,” she said. “Learning how to talk to complete strangers, who are almost always a lot older than I am, and learning how to effectively communicate with them even when they are sick, hurt, upset or their loved one is the sick/hurt one is so important. The communication skills I have learned, I now use in my day-to-day life. It makes me better at talking to and helping anyone and everyone I encounter.”
For Casey, the EMS training will have a practical purpose as she prepares to study nursing. “As an EMT, I’ve not only gained skills that I will use in a nursing career, but I’ve also learned how to balance life’s responsibilities,” she said. “Without the fire, EMS and life skills I’ve learned at Department and Cadet drills,” Vierner added. “I don’t think I would be where I am today.”
Fire Capt. Wayne Goeben said the program is an important “feeder chain” to long term Department membership. “Canton’s Cadet Program has tremendous value, both at the overall Department level and at the individual level,” he said. “The Cadet benefits by gaining valuable skills such as: teamwork, leadership, responsibility, brother/sisterhood and quite possibly, a career path. They in turn, drive new energy into the Department.”
EMS Captain Gerry Holland concurred. Having younger members, manifests itself in several ways:
– They add depth to the responding crews. Additional hands are always of value.
– They can be of service during their high school years and after. If they choose to go away to college, they can volunteer while they are home on breaks and vacations.
– They can gain exposure to the emergency medical field and possibly find a course of study or a career that will allow them to serve our community long into the future.
– When not assigned to a duty shift, they may be at events in Town and be able to provide first aid even before the ambulance arrives.
– They may bring a new perspective, enthusiasm and ideas to our service.
Gotaski acknowledges that volunteering for emergency services can be a little intimidating. “It’s the fear of the unknown,” he said. The toughest part is to walk through that door. After that, you’re hooked. While other people are sitting home, these kids are out serving their community,” Gotaski added. “They’ve learned valuable lessons and the importance of giving back. It’s a big commitment, but one that really pays off for everyone.”
Canton’s Fire Cadet Program accepts young men and women, ages 15 to 21, throughout the year. For more information, contact either:
Tom Gotaski: (860) 693-2929; firstname.lastname@example.org or
Jim Juhl: (860) 693-2836; email@example.com.